The term “Superfoods” is one of the latest buzz words and has become a topic of conversation amongst friends and bloggers alike. While there are several superfoods worth noting, the one I want to explore briefly in this blog is Coconut oil. Coconut oil has received quite a bit of attention the last couple of years between all of the different studies supporting its substantial health benefits, to its diverse use in personal care products. The questions and concerns about coconut oil use comes up frequently in my Foods to Nourish class so I thought it would be helpful to talk about a few of its health promoting benefits and uses with the hope that it might clear up some of the confusion.
Coconut oil has been demonized in the past because it contains saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fat known to man. That being said, the newest data is now showing that saturated fats from coconuts are harmless because they are comprised mostly of medium-chain fatty acids (MFCA’s), sometimes also referred to as MCT’s (medium-chain triglycerides), both of which are fatty acids of a medium length.
Most of the fatty acids in the standard American diet (SAD) that can lead to arterial plaque come from either long-chain fatty acids sourced from animal-based foods, or from unsaturated vegetable oils primarily from corn and soybean oils. What I want to spotlight here is that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are metabolized differently than long-chain fatty acids. MCFA’s go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, and are either used as a quick source of energy for the body or they’re turned into ketone bodies, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. With Alzheimer’s there appears to be a reduced ability to use glucose (the most available fuel), for energy in certain parts of the brain. Researchers are now speculating that the ketones found in coconut oil can provide an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells thereby reducing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, long-chain fatty acids take a significantly longer period of time to break down and digest which renders them much less available for quick energy.
It has also been determined that the saturated fats in coconut oil don’t actually harm the blood lipid profile like previously thought, but in fact can raise our HDL (the good) cholesterol and change the LDL cholesterol to a benign subtype.
Almost 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil is in the form of Lauric Acid. This acid along with its 3 other prominent acids all demonstrate antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. These substances have even been shown to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus as well as the yeast Candida Albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans.
Coconut oil is also widely used today for cosmetic purposes to improve the health and appearance of skin and hair. Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture and lipid content of the skin. One study even shows its effectiveness as a sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Come join us on November 16th at our next Foods to Nourish class where we’ll have a far more in-depth conversation about coconut oil and its many health benefits and uses. We’ll also be taking time to craft a few personal care products that you can take home to try.
Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil – Kris Gunnars 7/8/2013
Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future – David Wolfe